On January 16, Siamak Namazi, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, appealed to President Joe Biden to do more to free him and other Americans held in Iran. “In the past I implored you to reach for your moral compass and find the resolve to bring the US hostages in Iran home. To no avail,” he wrote in an open letter. “Not only do we remain Iran’s prisoners, but you have not so much as granted our families a meeting.”
For years, Iran has sporadically detained dozens of Americans and Iranian-Americans, often on trumped up charges of espionage or undermining national security. Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz were the other two Iranian-Americans held in Iran as of early 2023. “All three deserve to be home,” Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, said in October 2022. “They should never have been imprisoned. It's an outrageous practice that the Iranian government has had, which is to use these dual nationals as pawns.”
Namazi, a Dubai-based businessman, was detained in 2015 during a trip to Iran. In 2016, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “colluding with an enemy state,” a charge that he denied. His father, Baquer Namazi, was also sentenced to 10 years for the same charge. In October 2022, Iran released the elder Namazi so that he could seek medical treatment abroad. The 85-year-old was suffering from heart problems and other health complications.
In the letter, Namazi announced the start of a seven-day hunger strike to mark seven years since he was excluded from a prisoner swap. “All I want sir, is one minute of your days’ time for the next seven days devoted to thinking about the tribulations of the U.S. hostages in Iran,” he wrote. “Just a single minute of your time for each year of my life that I lost in Evin prison after the USG could have saved me but didn’t.” Namazi concluded the seven-day hunger strike on January 22. “I denied myself food for an entire week so that maybe President Biden will recognize just how desperate the situation of the U.S. hostages here has become,” Namazi wrote in a statement.
In January 2016, Iran and the United States organized a prisoner swap that was timed with final implementation of the nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—reached between Iran and the world’s six major powers in 2015. Iran released one American and four Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. The United States pardoned or commuted the sentences of one Iranian and six Iranian-Americans. But not all detainees were released by either nation. The following is the full text of Namazi’s letter to President Biden and statement at the end of the strike.
Dear President Biden,
When the Obama Administration unconscionably left me in peril and freed the other American citizens Iran held hostage on January 16, 2016, the U.S. Government promised my family to have me safely home within weeks. Yet seven years and two presidents later, I remain caged in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, holding that long overdue IOU along with the unenviable title of the longest held Iranian-American hostage in history.
My captors enjoy taunting me about that fact by saying things like: “How can your beloved America be so heartless? Not one but two U.S. presidents freed others but left you behind!” Yet my frank reply deprives them of any satisfaction. I tell them while I remain highly indignant about the invidious distinction the U.S. Government can make among its citizens at risk, I never forget that it was not Obama or Trump who imprisoned me on made up charges. That it is clear whose vile hostage diplomacy has blighted the lives of so many innocent men and women and their families.
Sadly, I have a far harder time replying honestly to a genuine question, “How are you, really?” I know of no words that do justice to the ineffable pain I’ve endured since Iran took me hostage in October 2015. Nothing I say could possibly convey the agony of having to harden myself to this soul crushing callousness and lawlessness. How does one describe what it feels like to be stripped of your humanity and treated as some sort of extortionately priced item instead? How do I explain the devastation my family and I are left with after so many half-hearted prisoner deals crumbled last minute, turning freedom into a chimera? How do I convey the excruciating terror that comes with not knowing when or how this nightmare will end or even what comes next?
Day after day I ignore the intense pain that I always carry with me and do my best to fight this grave injustice. You certainly won’t be surprised to hear that my tenacity has wrought no positive results and that my repeated calls for the rule of law and show of humanity have fallen on deaf ears here. Perhaps I’m lucky that is so. After all, today the whole world is witnessing how atrociously this regime can respond to those who dare demand their basic rights.
The extent of my captors’ ruthlessness is not the only thing I’ve learned far more about during these insufferable years. I now know that I shouldn’t get my hopes up when senior U.S. officials say that rescuing the hostages in Iran is their highest priority. Such well-intentioned statements can be repeated year after year without tangible results. Only the President of the United States has the power to bring us home, should he set his mind to do so. That is why, Mr. Biden, on the 7th anniversary of being left behind by the Obama Administration, I’m once again risking a direct appeal to you.
In the past I implored you to reach for your moral compass and find the resolve to bring the US hostages in Iran home. To no avail. Not only do we remain Iran’s prisoners, but you have not so much as granted our families a meeting.
So today I feel compelled to adjust my ask. All I want sir, is one minute of your days’ time for the next seven days devoted to thinking about the tribulations of the U.S. hostages in Iran. Just a single minute of your time for each year of my life that I lost in Evin prison after the USG could have saved me but didn’t. That is all. Alas, given I am in this cage all I have to offer you in return is my additional suffering. Therefore, I will deny myself food for the same seven days, in the hope that by doing so you won’t deny me this small request.
January 16, 2023
Statement released upon conclusion of hunger strike:
I've been Iran's prisoner for a very long time. Longer than all of the many hostages being held here. Longer than anyone in Evin Prison's Ward 4, in fact. I know better than most that a hunger strike is a prisoner's weapon of last resort – to be used only if our cup of endurance has truly run over and after exhausting all other options.
I went on hunger strike because I've learned the hard way that U.S. presidents tend to rely more on their political thermometer than their moral compass when deciding whether or not to enter a prisoner deal with Iran – or indeed who to include in one. I denied myself food for an entire week so that maybe President Biden will recognize just how desperate the situation of the U.S. hostages here has become. So that he may realize that we have suffered far too much for far too long, and that it is time to match claims that freeing us is a U.S. government priority with the tough decisions needed to bring us home. All of us.
It's impossible for me to express how grateful Morad, Emad, and I are for the strong show of sympathy you've offered us during the past week. The deluge of coverage gave me the strength to carry on when my body was at its weakest. It lifted all our spirits and renewed our hope. Please continue to raise awareness about our plight and don't get inured to our being Iran's hostage. Don't let President Biden leave us in this abyss of misery.
Having said all that, I cannot be as remiss as to ask others to recognize our tribulations without acknowledging the pain of so many others who are unjustly languishing in prison with me. Everyone here for the sole crime of speaking their mind and for demanding their rights and the rule of law deserves our attention and respect. I particularly want to shine a light on the indomitable political prisoners in the women's ward. Just like outside, inside these walls these dauntless women face far more restrictions than the men do, yet they display the kind of courage that we, frankly, fail to pluck. They are truly an inspiration to us all.
American Hostage in Iran
October 2015 – Present